2009’s Star Trek was a welcomed breath of fresh air. Nourishment given to a dying friend, it brought relevancy to a film franchise done under by safe and predictable guidance by its previous tenants. Into the Darkness harkens back to the best and brightest moments of the original series; high-adventure, a strong moral compass, sci-fi hook and the problems of today played out in the 23rd century theater. This is an excellent film with a huge heart and some awesome summer spectacle!
Things get fairly political in ways i wasn’t expecting and it’s been a long time since Trek has stood on a soap box to yell at the world. The original series reflected the idealistic times of the 1960’s, civil rights was moving forward, LBJ’s “Great Society” was passed and Man was prepping to land on the moon. Fast forward 50 years later and idealism has been replaced with skepticism of government, terrorism has made us cautious of our neighbors and NASA has been all but underfunded and discarded. Into the Darkness mines the heck out of that “darkness” and crafted one of the best films of the franchise.
The film picks up a short time after the conclusion of the 2009 entry. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are trying to save a primitive society from an erupting volcano. In the process, Spock (Zachary Quinto) becomes trapped and Kirk must violate The Federation’s “Prime Directive” to save him. This results in the Enterprise being given back to Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and Kirk being demoted to First Officer. However, as this is happening, a rogue Starfleet officer, Commander John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), has declared war on his employers. He detonates a bomb in London then stages a sneak attack on Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco. Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), Pike’s superior, gives Kirk back his ship with new orders: track down Harrison, who has gone into hiding on the Klingon home planet, and bring him to justice.
So sets things in motion to put a twist on what we would normally expect. Benedict Cumberpatch as Khan is a vastly different creature than Ricardo Montalban’s perfect embodiment of wounded ego and personal vengeance. Not so much a psycho, he was, but more of an self-entitled narcissist. Montalbahn’s Khan had a legitimate beef with Kirk, he felt he was purposefully abandoned on a rough planet, fueled by the death of his wife. Once had hijacked USS Reliant, he had the chance to escape, but he took it personal leading to his demise. Cumberpatch’s Khan is a really a nastier creation, one created by the Federation very much in the vein of Osma Bin Laden, he’s been a Starfleet officer being his freak out and it’s up to Kirk to clean up the mess. There is no personal grudge with Kirk per say, but the Federation as a whole and like the previous Trek, this is like original series Trek, “only bigger.” This version of Khan is a more complex, different version, (NOT better) as he’s a product of the Federation. Vulcan being destroyed was the first film’s 9/11. That catastrophic event changed things forever and for the worse as it made Federation, no longer a noble gesture of seeing what’s out there- but cautious, some would say, paranoid as in Khan and his supermen’s case, having been discovered years before the Enterprise originally did, this timeline, their discovery was meant with a ‘what can they do for us now,” mentality. They exploit Khan and his people to no end, create a monster and then are surprised and shocked when he turns against them leaving Kirk to clean up the mess. Sound familiar?
On the minds of our 23rd century counterparts is terrorism, unheard of in the original timeline, but already established in the alternate timeline in the first film with the destruction of Vulcan. The fallout has created a paranoid, suspicious Federation who is having trouble going where no one has gone before. Instead of Kirk and crew, it’s the Federation that discovers Khan Noonian Sighn and his crew of super humans launched in the 20th century on board the Botany Bay. This Khan Noonian Sigh, is vastly different, still power mad and ego-centric, but his reasons for being pissed are bigger than in the original timeline. This time his beef is with the Federation as a whole, think of him as a Osma Bin Laden- type. In WOK, Kirk’s well-intended gesture turned into a pissed off despot who blamed him for everything bad- here, both men are out for vengeance. Khan is out to kill all things Starfleet; Kirk is out to kill the man who killed his friend. Both are correct in their rage, but its all about how one channels that energy.
Abrams and crew did a great job of stepping in the same area as “Wrath of Khan” but they make sure not to repeat or try to outdo the perfect original. With the alternate timeline that can take familiar characters and situations and give them a unique twist or bent perspective.
I know the ending is directly taken from Spock’s death, this time it’s switched up and although is not nearly as touching or impactful as Spock’s, but the point is the same- a teachable moment, this time for Spock instead of Kirk, whose death is more than gimmick as it shows him learning humility and Spock embracing his humanity. Kirk’s death is a catalyst, it’s the light bulb going on, it’s the you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone moment, where finally he understands. It doesn’t matter that we, the audience, know that the death won’t stick, what matter is that Spock sees the light. Spock and Kirk have no reason to think it won’t. So that is a real moment for them, and it’s hugely powerful, I think. Spock’s death in WoK is the coda to their shared lives … but Kirk’s death in ID is the defining moment that propels them into that legendary friendship. BOTH deaths meant something for each character – For Spock’s sake, Kirk wants him to understand that he put his career on the line to save him because he matters, because some things are more important than the rules. But for his own sake too he needs Spock to understand that, or what was the point? And the fact that Spock does get it, and says so, that’s his reward. That’s him knowing he didn’t do what he did for nothing. That Spock Prime was right.’ It’s his crisis of leadership’.
In the original WOK, Kirk was arrogant, having cheated death constantly, he never lost anyone close, when he finally did, he was humbled, and in strange, bitter ironic twist of fate, he gained his friend back, but lost his son David in the process as if fate was rubbing it in and was daring him to that again. Spock’s definitive declaration of friendship, “I have and always shall be your…friend,” and his death, are the culmination of a decades’ long relationship between him and Kirk. They both know already that Spock has always been his friend, that their friendship has defined them, but for whatever reason it’s never been said out loud. Now, in his final moments, Spock wants to say it. He wants it on the record, so to speak. But he’s only stating the obvious. This time, in the altered timeline, these two guys haven’t got that history. What they’ve got is frustration and misunderstanding and cross purposes and, for Kirk, a heads up from Spock Prime that they’re supposed to be lifelong friends. So he doesn’t quite get that it’s just not happening, and Spock – who’s never had a friend, doesn’t know what to do with a friend, doesn’t know how to be a friend – he’s just doing what he knows how to do, what he’s been taught is the right thing to do, and is genuinely shocked when it keeps backfiring on him. There’s a part of him that wants the friendship, knows he needs the friendship, even feels the friendship, but he’s not capable of articulating that in any way. Kirk gets friends easily and plentiful, especially females, but none ever stick around, until now.
So for the crybabies who may have balked over the de ja vu feeling with Khan, it’s not about being unoriginal, it’s not about disrespecting the source material, contradicting it, it’s about reinterpreting, re-imagining, taking a pivotal moment in history and bending it around the fact that nothing in this timeline will be precisely as it was in the original, which would be the whole point. Because filtered through a prism. A singular moment reinterpreted to give it new meaning. It’s not about Kirk finally facing death as it was in TWOK; it’s about Spock finally understanding the power of emotional connections, something he never even fully had with Uhura. Spock is half-human and he finally realizes that.
Director JJ Abrams has now became more famous than his cast, having already signed up for Star Wars Episode VII, we can only guess how he will treat that franchise, but for Trek, he’s done good. His direction this time is steadier, smoother, coherent, Spielberg-esque actually, the adventure parts of the film are a great thrill and his cast have some excellent moments. Two things I do not like however- I still hate the Enterprise Bridge, it looks like an over-stuffed Apple store with lights constantly shining in the viewer’s eyes and the engine room is needless retro. The original series never had that many pipes, so why does this one have to look like Shotz Brewery? A quibble, not a complaint as I loved the rest of the movie.
The cast continues to impress, Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zach Quinto (Spock) have their own unique chemistry that belongs to them. The supporting cast is excellent, the only misstep is Simon Peg as Scotty, he’s mostly too jokey and has yet to find the dramatic power of the late great James Doohan as the original Mr. Scott.
I never watched Star Trek for the techo-no babble or to complain about something scientific not being accurate, (like some do with the cold fusion bomb with Spock) I watched it for the characters, the thoughtful sci-fi ideas, social commentary, the action and humor, but mostly for the characters, the way the personalities played off each other. I got to know that crew and, as we were meant to, admired them and yes, cried with them when Spock died in “Wrath of Khan,” and for Kirk when his son David was murdered by those “Klingon bastards!”
Those are precious, iconic moments that will live with me forever not just as a fan, but as a human being because they spoke about bigger, more meaningful things than just sci-fi B movie spectacle. Nobody, but the original cast could have that same chemistry, like a precious gem, it belongs to those actors, but the new cast has done their best to forge their own path, to do their own thing without trampling on the originals kid’s work. I know there will always be those who want a replay of the first telling, Star Trek the way it was–but honestly, you could really not ask for a better rebirth of the source. They tapped into a spring that had been nearly dripped dry thanks to lazy storytelling and zero soap-boxing. So much of the criticism is overlooking the very obvious and respectful love being brought into these productions, by everyone involved. I am absolutely hoping for at least one more adventure with this same cast, same writing, same director, and the same art design (applied to some wonderfully unexpected new vistas, except for that damn bridge! Make it closer the original series).
Twice in a row is already beating the odds. JJ has shown his love for Trek, despite being a Star Wars fan… (not sure why he has to choose, I never did) I drool at what he cooks up for the next Star Wars!!!! Lastly, let’s get a proper ending for the Next Generation crew! Make it so!